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303 million 5-17 year-olds are out of school worldwide
by Henrietta Fore
UNICEF Executive Director, agencies
Sep. 2018
1 in 3 children and young people between 5 and 17 years old living in countries affected by conflict or disaster – 104 million – are not in school, a figure that accounts for more than a third of the global out-of-school population, according to a new UNICEF report. In total, 303 million 5-17 year-olds are out of school worldwide.
The report notes 1 in 5 young people aged 15 to 17 years old living in countries affected by conflict or disaster have never entered any school, and 2 in 5 have never completed primary school.
A future stolen: young and out-of-school looks at the education situation of children and young people from pre-primary to upper secondary age across all countries, including those affected by humanitarian emergencies.
“When a country is hit by conflict or disaster, its children and young people are victimized twice,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “In the near term, their schools are damaged, destroyed, occupied by military forces or even deliberately attacked, and they join the millions of young people out of school, and as the years progress they seldom return. In the long term they – and the countries they live in – will continue to face perpetuating cycles of poverty.”
With less than 4 per cent of global humanitarian appeals dedicated to education, the report calls for more investment in quality education where children and young people can learn in a safe environment, from pre-primary to upper-secondary, in countries affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises.
The report looks at the global situation of out-of-school children and young people, highlighting that across the world:
Nearly 303 million children and young people aged between 5 and 17 years old – around 1 in 5 – are out of school globally.
More than half of out-of-school children of primary-school age live in countries affected by emergencies.
Poverty remains the most significant barrier to education globally with the poorest primary school age children 4 times more likely to be out of school compared to their peers from the richest households.
By current trends, the number of 10 to 19 year-olds will rise to more than 1.3 billion by 2030, an increase of 8 per cent, the report says. Providing this future workforce with quality education and better employment prospects will yield greater economic and social dividends.
“This is a critical moment in history. If we act wisely and urgently, we can empower and skill young people to be prepared to create peaceful and prosperous societies,” said Fore. “The alternative is too bleak. We cannot afford to fail.”
Sep. 2018
“Many people are not aware of the scale of the education crisis - and the first step to affecting change is to make people aware just how serious the problem is," says Theirworld President Sarah Brown.
"This is an entire future generation missing out on the opportunity to receive an education and have the best start in life, which every child deserves."
We look at some of the reasons why over 260 million children around the world are being deprived of an education and a future.
An estimated 158 million school-age children and adolescents are living in over 20 countries and areas currently affected by armed conflict. Millions have had their education disrupted by wars and conflicts in the past year.
Unspeakable violence against children was revealed in a United Nations report in June.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “The United Nations has verified more than 21,000 violations committed against children in 2017 and reliable reports of more than 10,000 children killed or maimed in armed conflict last year."
Attacks on schools
Schools are supposed to be safe places for children. But more than 21,000 students and teachers were harmed in attacks on schools and universities around the world over a five-year period, a shocking report revealed in May.
They were targeted in bombings, air strikes, abductions, intimidation, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups. The result is children staying away from school.
Hundreds of attacks on schools by armed factions around the world showed a “blatant disregard” by armed groups for both international law and children’s lives.
Refugee crisis
More than half the world''s school-age refugees are excluded from education as host nations struggle under the weight of growing humanitarian crises.
Four million refugee children around the world do not attend school - an increase of half a million from a year earlier - the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a report last month.
Only 61% of refugee children are at primary school - compared to 91% of all children across the world. Just 23% of adolescent refugees attend secondary school, compared to 84% globally.
Child labour
The United Nations wants to eradicate child labour by 2025. But with millions of children under the age of 18 working, that''s going to be a massive task.
Across the world, 152 million children aged five to 17 are victims of forced labour and often miss out on education, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
They toil in homes, mines, fields and factories, carry heavy loads, work long hours and suffer exposure to pesticides and other toxic substances.
Discrimination against girls
More than 130 million girls between the ages of six and 17 are still not getting an education - and 75% of them are adolescents, according to a World Bank report in July.
Fewer than two in three girls in low-income countries complete primary school and only a third finish lower secondary school. Only about 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school.
Girls are four times more likely to be out of school than boys from the same background. The poorest girls also have the least likelihood of completing primary school. There are also often legal, religious and traditional practices that discriminate against girls getting an education.
Children with disabilities are more likely to miss out on school than other children. Even if they go to school, they are more likely to leave before finishing their primary education.
For children who are already marginalised, such as girls and children living in rural areas, a disability creates an additional barrier to accessing education.
The World Health Organization and the World Bank estimate that in some countries "being disabled more than doubles the chance of never enrolling in school". Throughout Africa, less than 10% of children with a disability are in primary education.
Some of the poorest countries in the world struggle to finance an education system for all their children. But evidence shows that if we invest more in education, poverty is reduced at a faster rate, there are long-term health benefits and greater gender equality.
Funding is an important issue when looking at reasons why girls aren’t in school. Education for girls is often the lowest budget priority in many countries.
Daughters are perceived to be less valuable once educated and less likely to abide by the will of the father, brother or husband. Often male siblings will be given the chance to attend school instead.
Child marriage
About 12 million girls a year are married before the age of 18 - often with devastating consequences for their health and education.
Poverty is often the key reason for child marriage but protracted conflicts or natural disasters also put more girls at risk.
The UN is aiming to end the practice by 2030. About 25 million early marriages have been prevented in the last decade, with the biggest decline in South Asia, where the risk of a girl marrying before her 18th birthday has fallen from 50% to 30% in recent years.
Natural disasters
Disasters displaced 18.8 million people in 135 countries last year. Of these, 8.6 million were triggered by floods and 7.5 million by storms, especially tropical cyclones.
They included hundreds of thousands of children whose education was stopped or disrupted due to schools being severely damaged or destroyed by the extreme weather conditions.
The South Asia floods in 2017 destroyed or damaged 18,000 schools and left 1.8 million children out of education.
Lack of daily, nutritious meals can mean children dropping out of school or not being able to concentrate in the classroom.
A daily school meal is a strong incentive for families to consistently send their children to school. Just 25 cents can pay for one school meal, while $50 feeds a child for an entire academic year, according to the UN World Food Programme which provides to more than nine million schoolchildren in Africa.
The economic and hunger crisis in Venezuela has driven children out of school. Three million of the country''s eight million students have been missing classes - due to lack of food, transport to get to school or basic facilities such as electricity and safe water.
Millions of children, particularly in rural locations, are much more likely to drop out of school unless they can learn in their mother tongue. About 500 million children are taught in a language they don''t speak at home.
The UN education agency UNESCO has long encouraged mother tongue instruction in primary education, with research showing that it is the optimal language for literacy and learning.
In the developing world, children are more likely to enrol and succeed in school if they are taught in their own language. In particular, girls and rural children with less exposure to a dominant language stay in school longer and repeat grades less often if they learn in their native tongue.
Violence at school
Not only is this a violation of their human rights, it is also one of the most common causes for girls to drop out of school.
An estimated 246 million girls and boys are harassed and abused on their way to and at school every year - with girls particularly vulnerable. In Africa, half of all children said they had been bullied at school.
18 million girls aged 15 to 19 are victims of sexual violence - often leading to school dropout and reinforcing cultural practices such as early marriage.
Lack of teachers
To get every child in the world into school, there will need to be an extra 25 million primary school teachers.
Many existing teachers, especially in the least developed countries, are untrained, underpaid and working with scarce resources.
In many countries affected by conflict, there can be a lack of teachers because they have been become targets for attacks and intimidation. Many teachers also drop out because they are poorly paid or spend too much of their time on non-teaching duties.
Child soldiers
Children have been used in wars in at least 18 countries since 2016, says Child Soldiers International.
More than 20% of the 197 UN member states still enlist children into their militaries, including 17 states which enlist as young as 16.
About 19,000 child soldiers are still serving in South Sudan - although a few hundred have been freed this year.
In many parts of the world, girls who are pregnant - regardless of their circumstances - will be excluded from school.
Many do not return after giving birth due to those rules, stigma, fees, lack of childcare and the unavailability of flexible school programmes.
About 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 and some one million girls under 15 give birth every year—most in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Journeys to school
A simple walk to school can be extremely unsafe or intimidating for some children. Many parents refuse to send their children - particularly girls - to school in case they are harassed, exploited or sexually abused.
Many children in remote communities also have to make the most unimaginable and dangerous journeys every day to access education.
Some walk along treacherous cliff edges. Others trek into the mountains for miles or cross broken bridges to be at school on time. For children living in rural or poverty-ridden areas there is no quick solution and often it is easier to quit school.
Lack of toilets and sanitation facilities
Nearly half the world''s schools lack clean drinking water, toilets and handwashing facilities, putting millions of children at risk of disease, experts have warned.
Almost 900 million children have to contend with a lack of basic hygiene facilities during their education, putting their health at risk and meaning some have to miss school.
In parts of sub-Saharan Africa and other regions, girls can miss out on up to five days of school per month or stop going to school entirely because of insufficient access to water and hygiene facilities, no separate toilets for girls and a lack of sanitary supplies. Many girls also worry about sexual advances from boys in mixed toilets.
Street children
The United Nations estimates there are up to 150 million street children in the world - but the exact number is unknown because they are often under the radar of education and social services organisations.
Children living or working on the streets can have complex circumstances and are very vulnerable to exploitation and violence. It’s hard to reach them with vital services such as education and healthcare.
They miss out on their right to education because they are trying to support themselves or their families, so less formal approaches might be needed to try to get them into learning.

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The right to social protection for all
by OHCHR, UN DESA, Development Pathways, agencies
Oct. 2018
International Labour Organization (ILO) Social Protection Floors for All - 3rd Meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Partnership for SDG 1.3, statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. (OHCHR)
''Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 1.3): States should implement social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable''.
This global gathering of stakeholders is part of the process of the delivery of the 2030 Agenda – goal by goal, country by country, community by community, until we are quite sure that no one has been left behind.
All of us here today share a unity of purpose. We all want to see a world where all children and all adults have their basic needs met; where unemployment, injury, ill-health, old age or disability do not signal misery and hardship; where people are not left unprotected in times of crisis and disaster.
We also share a common and very practical belief in how that vision can be made reality: social protection floors, laid on a firm foundation of human rights standards and principles. These are capable of delivering the change we yearn to see.
So, how do we create the right conditions for social protection to sustain human dignity everywhere?
First, we must acknowledge the reality. 71% of the world’s population lacks access to full social protection. In other words, in two thirds of the globe, societies have not been able to guarantee their people the basic means to live without fear and without feeling discriminated against or ostracized. Almost two thirds of the world’s children – that’s 1.3 billion children – live without coverage.
Today, millions of people cannot count on their communities to provide basic goods and services.
These are overwhelming numbers. But, there is an approach that is slowly gaining traction. Through trial and error and lessons learned, we have gained experience in the implementation of social protection systems. Today, we have the means to provide access to health and to a basic income, which can provide a minimum level of security. The instruments range from family contributions for each child and disability pensions, to maternal, retirement and unemployment benefits.
The issue, and it’s a human rights issue, is how to extend these services and minimum social benefits to a higher number of people. We need universal systems in line with people’s universal rights.
Throughout history, we have witnessed how crisis can become a detonator that speeds up the decision making process. After the 2008 financial crisis, for example, a series of reflections and proposals were put forward, in the area of global financial governance, as well as domestic economic frameworks.
Leaders around the globe have began to speak about social protection. In fact, the United Nations agreed in 2009 to a “Social Protection Floor Initiative” that called for a coordinated joint response to the crisis, both in the economic and social spheres. Thus, the right to social protection for all was validated.
Among the efforts to promote social protection, was the Commission set up in 2011 by the ILO Director General, at that time, Juan Somavia. He asked me to chair a Commission that would develop recommendation in this area for Member States. Along with renowned experts we wrote the “Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization” report, which had as its main finding that investing in integral social protection systems are the best response to crisis in the short and long term.
The ILO took these ideas and turned them into actions, such as Recommendation R202. The recommendation, adopted by the International Labor Conference in June 2012, provides guidance to member States in building comprehensive social security systems and extending social security coverage by prioritizing the establishment of national floors of social protection accessible to all in need. The United Nations backed this strategy.
In 2012 there was a paradigm shift. There was a broad acceptance that social protection floors must be present in all societies. Since 2014, the ILO and the OHCHR, as well as other UN agencies have worked together to promote the right to social security, while providing support to more than 40 countries, which are developing social protection floor systems.
Even more important, a number of countries have been able to develop social protection floors, which guarantee specific rights. And, it’s not only the more developed countries, as there are advances in middle and low income countries.
What we are witnessing is the forging of a consensus regarding the link between social protection floors and more inclusive development. We are beginning to accept that there are no shortcuts to true development and that wellbeing in the long term can only be achieved through investment in people, without exception.
This goes hand in hand with the building of more inclusive societies, with a holistic view of the necessary actions. This is exactly what countries committed to when the 2030 Agenda was adopted. SDG 1.3 is explicit: we should implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.
We know that the SDGs are not just rhetoric. Their strength lies in being a road map to which we can all contribute.
But, today’s politicians, labour leaders and entrepreneurs face the acceleration of global processes generating both threats and opportunities. The most evident threat is to do nothing, as this would perpetuate precarious conditions, vulnerability and lack of economic growth. Deficits in coverage are directly linked to the absence of investment in social protection, in particular in Africa, Asia and the Arab States.
Another threat are widespread austerity measures, blighting the lives of millions and disproportionately affecting the people least equipped to cope. In times of hardship, too many countries cut social protection rather than increase it, even for children.
Whether these austerity measures and fiscal reforms are genuine attempts to deal with the aftermath of the economic crisis, or are politically driven cost-cutting exercises, they often come at the expense of human rights protections. They run counter to States’ human rights obligations.
International human rights law is clear on this matter: Budgets should be ring-fenced to ensure that essential goods and services are universally accessible.
These austerity measures also risk jeopardizing our progress towards the SDGs – plunging more people into poverty and impinging on more of their rights.
We cannot, on the one hand, press for changes in line with the SDGs, in terms of inclusion, climate change adaptation, and on the other, undermine the foundations of the system of protection, that is the last resort for millions of families.
This is not an abstract idea. The United Nations has identified and highlighted the real impact of this phenomenon on economic, social and cultural rights.
For example, the negative effects on the right to work, the right to social security, particularly for women, migrants and the elderly. In the case of health reform, budget cuts can affect the most vulnerable, if they cut benefits, reduce personnel or do no prioritize prevention. Pension reform can often hide the exclusion of those with less education and fewer years of work, in particular, women.
The actions we must take are linked to opportunities. Now is the time to ensure that SDG 1.3 brings real results to people.
The ILO''s Global Flagship social protection programme is pivotal to meeting these challenges. Its work to promote basic income security and access to health care and food for the most marginalized groups on earth is important, inspiring and practical.
I welcome that this flagship programme is built on a human rights foundation – with the ILO Guiding Principles - drawn from States’ human rights obligations, at its very heart.
Social protection systems are a community response. They are a human creation at service of needs. Millions of lives can be transformed by the indivisible principles of meeting people’s physical needs and enabling them to enjoy their human rights. Our shared vision is not just all human rights for all people, but full social protection for all people.
We have the opportunity to confront poverty, level out power imbalances, deliver greater gender equality and protect the weakest members of our societies. Billions of people long to enjoy their basic rights to social security, food, health, education, equality. Let us meet these basic needs, and then let’s exceed them.
July 2018
The role of universal social protection in promoting inclusion underlined by United Nations. (Development Pathways, agencies)
The United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs has just released its flagship report on the World Social Situation 2018 which, this year, examines social protection and its role in promoting social inclusion.
The report examines social protection through the lens of categories of the population at risk of social exclusion. These include: children, young people, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous people and ethnic minorities. For each category, the report examines the risks and disadvantages faced, outlines the gaps in social protection coverage, describes the barriers that have to be overcome and makes recommendations on how to improve access.
The report notes that, while investment in social protection can have major impacts on wellbeing and contribute to economic growth, still only 29 per cent of the global population enjoys comprehensive coverage. As a result, many countries are missing out on the benefits of investing in social protection.
One of the success stories in recent years has been the growth in old age pensions: by 2016 close to 68 per cent of older persons were in receipt of a pension and the number continues to grow as more and more countries introduce similar schemes (with Kenya’s introduction of its universal Inua Jamii pension, the most recent example). Nonetheless, there are still many countries where citizens can have no expectation of income security in old age – although the debate is growing, as in Indonesia.
However, coverage of other categories of the population is still low. Only 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities receive disability benefits, no more than 35 per cent of children access social protection, and just 22 per cent of unemployed workers received unemployment benefits. These are major gaps.
On a positive note, the report highlights that several low- and middle-income countries have made strides in improving disability benefits coverage, with some, such as Armenia, achieving universal or near-universal coverage of persons with disabilities.
It is also gratifying to see in the report that UN-DESA accepts that the best way to ensure access to social protection is through an inclusive lifecycle approach.
As the report notes: “Universal programmes — available to all without conditions — are most likely to ensure inclusion and non-discrimination.” And, if targeting is used, it adds, it should be “approached as a complement to — rather than a substitute for — universal schemes”.
2018 Report on the World Social Situation. (UN DESA)
Universal social protection is a potent development policy tool that can alleviate poverty, inequality and social exclusion. Few countries have been able to reduce poverty and improve living conditions on a broad scale without comprehensive social protection systems in place.
The international community’s consensus on the importance of social protection has been reinforced with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Target 1.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals stresses the role of social protection in ending poverty in all its forms, as it seeks the implementation of “nationally appropriate social protection measures and systems for all, including floors”. By 2030, the goal is no less than “substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable”.
In order to promote inclusion, social protection systems must be sensitive to the needs of those population groups that are at highest risk of poverty: children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, international migrants, ethnic and racial minorities, and indigenous peoples.
The Report on the World Social Situation 2018 shows that each of these groups faces particular barriers to social protection coverage. It contends that inclusive social protection systems must guarantee access to a minimum set of tax-financed schemes. It explains why universal schemes are better at reaching disadvantaged groups than schemes targeted at them and considers how social protection programmes should be implemented in order to avoid excluding people in need.
* Access the report via the link below.

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